Nerding Out with Gillian Anderson: On ‘Hannibal,’ ‘The X-Files’ and Sci-Fi IRL

Welcome to “Nerding Out,” a new interview series where we get down and nerdy with famous females we admire—deep-diving into their fandom universe, brainy side projects, and existential observations. For our first interview in the series, we were outrageously excited to get the one-and-only Gillian Anderson on the horn. Hannibal‘s Bedelia du Maurier aka Special Agent Scully spoke with us from Vancouver just as she was about to start shooting the upcoming reboot of the X-Files. I know, we’re freaking out too. So, let’s just cut right to the chase.

Even if it can skew disturbing, Hannibal (which just kicked off a new season) has such a beautiful aesthetic as a show. I was struck by one part in the season premiere, of you sinking into the water of the bathtub. 

Well, you know, often, there’s a big discrepancy between an audience’s experience of an aesthetic moment and what is actually transpiring on the day when you’re filming it. Because  in order to get an aesthetic moment, the actor or performer, whoever it is, by the nature of creating the moment, is having to subject themselves to things that are not necessarily that comfortable and certainly in no ways aesthetic in the moment. When you’re doing take after take half-naked around like, a crew, immersing yourself in water, the actual real experience of it does not resemble the aesthetic nature of it at all.

What were your favorite shots to film in the show?

Usually the fun stuff has less to do with action or beauty and more to do with interaction between characters. And so most fun stuff to do on Hannibal, for instance, are some of the crazy scenes I get to do with Mads [Mikkelson, who plays Hannibal] and other characters.

There’s a scene in the first episode where we have a guest for dinner, and I’m eating oysters and they’re eating…somebody…and that exchange between the three of us was a very fun scene to do. It was funny. It was fun to play with pushing the boundaries of the relationship.

A lot of your roles  and the shows you’ve been on deal with darkness, or characters who are drawn towards darkness. Does the material have an impact on your life? Can you relate to that darkness or feel like you need to move away from it?

I’ve never been – knock wood – affected by the dark stuff I work on. Though, on the whole, there’s a lot of Hannibal I can’t watch. If I was watching it, I would have to fast forward to stuff that isn’t as gory as it can get on Hannibal. That’s when it would affect me, in the watching after the fact. In the doing of it — until this season, my character hasn’t been involved in the gory stuff. And what little I was involved in this season was tame enough that it didn’t give me nightmares.

What sort of stuff do you watch? What books are you reading?

I watch a lot of independent stuff, I watch foreign films. What I’ve seen recently is one of my favorites, an Argentinian film called Wild Tales, that is executive produced by [Pedro] Almodovar and extraordinarily directed. And extremely funny and thrilling and very, very, very good. And I usually have five books going at one time, but I’ve been writing lately so I can’t really remember what they are.

What are you writing now?

I’m in the second book of the trilogy of science fiction books that I co-write with an author called Jeff Rovin.

What’s it like to be on the other side of the story?

Well, I’ve written quite a lot before. I’ve worked on scripts from scratch, and I’ve worked on adapting novels into screenplays. So I’ve had experience with different types of writing before. And I’ve written prose before and poetry and etc, etc. It’s the first time I’ve written something for a major publication. And the process is a lot of fun, but there’s a much different intent and it’s much more stressful than I had imagined because there’s real deadlines on it whereas with the book I was adapting, I’d optioned it, and I’d taken years to work on it. A deadline is a different kind of a writing boundary and the impact of the deadline on creativity was something that I’d never had experience with before. It’s a big learning curve.

What about writing with another person? What is that like?

It seems to work for us. He’s written books before, so he understands how to set up scenes, how to write an outline, how the trajectory of the drama and the characters need to flow and I completely take his lead with all of that. So he begins and then he emails me what he’s got. I’m on a lot of airplanes in my life and I do my writing on planes. It seems to work.

On that note, I feel like we’ve seen a lot of mainstream science fiction recently and I wonder if you have an idea of why we’re so drawn to it.

On the one hand, science fiction has been around for a very long time as we’ve been trying to imagine why we’re here and what our presence on this planet is about and who else exists out there in the world and where are we headed. And I think with the increase in technology, and the concerns about it taking over our lives — right now, it’s just the time we spend on screens or you know, playing video games, or watching TV on our laptops, or however it is that it manifests, [that] is also a concern. That not only are we wasting our life, but that our computers and technology are eventually going to overtake our lives and where will we be left on this planet as human beings? And as we get closer to the world we’ve always fantasized about in science fiction…we are living in that time that we used to say was in the future. It’s now in the present.

And I think because of that there’s a lot of concern, a lot of fear, you know. People really questioning their own lives and where we’re going as a planet and all of those are going to be good subject matter for films. Anything that plays on the audience’s fear ends up generally making money and when you start making money in films, people want to emulate that. And then more scripts are written that are copies of things that make money, and it really has started a trend, as you say, not just in superheroes, but also in smaller films, [which] are really questioning our time here on this planet.

On that note, how do you feel about revisiting the role of Scully, with X-Files coming back?

I’m excited about it! I’m in Vancouver and we start on Monday [As of this interview, they started a week ago!]. It’s good to be here. I’m looking forward to it. I think with the perspective of the years that have passed, I’m grateful for the opportunity to revisit the character again and have fun and immerse ourselves in the nostalgia around it. It feels like a good thing.

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